Sunday, October 30, 2011

Transcription of old, middle and modern English records

Does transcription of old, middle and modern English records provide me with extra material for my genealogical studies? The overwhelming answer to this question is absolutely yes. There is so much hidden in these ancient, middle and modern records that can tell us about our ancestors, the times that they lived in, what they ate, what they wore and how they felt about the world around them.

How easy is it to decipher and extract all of this information about our ancestors? Initially when I took up Palaeography (the study of the writing in records earlier than our time period), I was struck by how similar the writing was to my grandparent's writing. Mind you I was mostly looking at documents from 1825 on initially. I was writing up the Pincombe Profile for my cousin George DeKay. I had a number of wills for my Pincombe family that had been collected by another cousin (married to my 3rd cousin Pincombe) plus wills that I had found in the Talman Room at the University of Western Ontario for my great grandparents Pincombe/ grandfather Pincombe. The reading of these was fairly straightforward for me as they were all written in that marvelous script that was taught to children in English schools especially from the 1840s on.

The wills told me so much about all of these people. There was always the religious section at the beginning of the wills which told me of their faith which they had passed on down to my generation. Church before self was deeply ingrained in me from early childhood. And that Church was the Church of England for I do not have any ancestors who were not born and raised Church of England. As adults a few became Methodist but they were rare most lived and died Anglicans with just one lone line exception - my maternal grandmother was educated in Roman Catholic schools in Birmingham and I still have to determine if her parents were married in the Roman Catholic Church there - no marriage has been found thus far. But that was found much later and has little to do with transcription and more to do with family lore. Her father was Church of England but a family story of disownment travels with the family lore.

The census and the parish records that I diligently went through looking for my Pincombe family all had that most exciting script style and I found the perfection of the writing to be such a joy to read. As time passed and the Pincombe Profile could be accomplished I started to move to other lines of my family that had only been glanced at in order to show how they combined with the Pincombe family and add to the Profile that bit of old knowledge to inspire people to look for more and to provide the best story that I could. All the while I was doing that, I was taking courses at the National Institute for Genealogical Studies. But it wasn't until the advanced courses that I studied Palaeography. My husband had taken the course about ten years earlier and had warned me that it was a difficult course and needed my full attention for the two months.

The time for the course coincided with a visit to our daughter (I usually stayed with her for 10 days to 2 weeks when I went) and I was able to devote the entire day to my studies. I did the exercises many times working on the middle English and Old English style of writing. For indeed some of the letters actually changed in how they were written going back in time. Writing them time after time gave me a fluency with both writing and reading the writings of this earlier time period so I took on my first really large project of an old will written in 1615 and probated in 1624 for Sir Francis Bayldon (a possibly ancestor of my husband). This ten page will took me days to transcribe and there were blanks! Because of the will I also searched out all the families he mentioned and put together the genealogy of this family. That is really what transcription is all about; gleaning from the early writings every scrap of information that you can about a family. The inventory that often accompanies the wills sometimes is done room by room giving you a glimpse into the contents of the individual rooms of their home. Often the wills would tell you exactly what they wore as they handed their garments on to their descendants, collateral relatives and others. The ten page document was my first real introduction to Palaeography. I worked on it for hours but still it had blanks. I would take some of the words that were around the blank and put them into Google and sometimes I was rewarded with a will that contained similar expressions that let me then look at the word with that thought in mind and discover that indeed it was that word.

Learning to transcribe is a product of my taking the course at the National Institute for Genealogical Studies (but also the National Archives (UK) offers a course on line as well which is also very very good and we now have Pharos which offers online courses). Since my studies were with the National Institute and it is locally here in Toronto most of my comments tend to be about the National Institute. However, I have also done some of the course work on the National Archives website. But just doing the course work isn't enough. You need to transcribe and transcribe all different kinds of documents to become ":fluent" in the language of the times. The way that sentences are phrased and the meaning of those sentences is different from today. Luckily I grew up with my English grandparents so that I am comfortable with some of the English expressions (still in use today by the way) that were used.

Of course, once I had become very fluent in early writings, I started to buy wills at the National Archives and the results of my transcription of the Pincombe wills (and others) can be seen in my blog. Noting that I do mention that I have gone through my transcriptions of a couple of years ago and improved them greatly. I have spent the last two years doing a lot of transcription so that I am far more comfortable than even two years ago with many different kinds of hand writing. Each time through those older transcriptions I have found a few changes here and there; I have been able to transcribe words that were just partial before. It is a skill that grows with the frequency with which you do the transcriptions. Between 2005 and 2010 I purchased more than 100 wills on the National Archives website for my various family lines.

Using these wills I was able to piece together much of my family tree as it now appears. Each will produced more questions than it did answers. That is perhaps the most amazing treat to transcription. It often leads you down paths you wouldn't have followed without them.

Parish Registers, as well, can often  give you information that is totally hidden in the IGI records which do not add the extras that some priests added to their records. A good example is my Vicary line at Bishops Nympton. William Pincombe married Mary Vicary 17 Jun 1685 at Bishops Nympton. Their son, my ancestor, was baptized 12 Jul 1692 at Bishops Nympton. Sorting through these two families at Bishops Nympton proved to be a challenge. The earlier records produced by the first two researchers on the Pincombe one name study had linked my family to a line at Bishops Nympton but it deadended with that family.

Over a four year period I transcribed the Parish Registers of Bishops Nympton word for word. I was new to the idea of transcription and of transcribing parish registers. My thought to have a word for word transcription in a word file seemed to fit what I wanted to learn about Bishops Nympton and 985 pages later I had the records from the beginning in the mid 1500s all the way up to the 1980s. I can search it as a word file but can not sort it like I could an excel file. Since then all of my parish transcriptions are excel files. But back to Bishops Nympton. The priests at Bishops Nympton by and large provided interesting details on the people in the records. For instance the marriage lines for William Pincombe and Mary Vicary told me that Mary was of the parish of Rose Ash with father Christopher. That made a great difference in my family tree and allowed me to go back several generations at Rose Ash with my Vicary family. I could not have done that without the original parish registers. I also could not have put the Pincombe family together without the Parish Registers. By working from the past to the present I was able to put together the various Pincombe family lines and separate out my own specific line. Transcription is a wonderful tool which is absolutely essential to research in the past.

Be prepared to spend time learning the earlier style of writing and the rewards are great. John Reid asked if I would write a little about transcription. I hope that I have fulfilled his thoughts as to just what I might write. John did ask me about my numbering of my wills. I do this for myself. I do not number the original will (unless it is very tiny and that is the only way to really sort out the lines. Usually the will is fairly easily to read. The numbering I use as reference marks when I quote from the will in later blogs; in my notes in my family genealogy software (I use Legacy) and because I am that sort of methodical person. I have been known to number the lines of letters that I write much to the annoyance of some people receiving them. But then as a child once I learned to count; I simply counted everything beginning with dishes. I started to wash dishes when I was three years old. The numbering was particularly excruciating for those who dried I gather! My grandfather actually told me that when I am doing tasks I should keep track of them so that I know how much I have completed. It was a good idea and I have retained it throughout my life.

1 comment:

JDR said...

Thanks for the information Elizabeth. I'm putting a post on my blog to share this with others.